Photo credit: Eric Williams and Fortune
My extended community of clients, friends, family, book readers, speech listeners and online buddies have zero doubt who is the one person in the world I would most love to work with: John Legend.
This is probably because I have written about him in all my books, have mentioned him in every speech, on every podcast interview, in The New York Times and talk to him (albeit one-sided) on Twitter.
I always want to make sure to leave no stone unturned so that on the perfect day, in the perfect moment, through an unexpected avenue and when I am least expecting it, he will reach out and say one of two things:
1) “Who the heck are you Pamela Slim and why are you stalking me?”
2) “I am so grateful that you never gave up on connecting with me Pamela Slim because now that I see your body of work, I realize I need to work with you on one of my projects!”
I think you know which option I am aiming for.
Tell your ideal clients you love them, even if they don’t know who you are
I tell my clients every day to not be shy about their aspirations to work with their absolute ideal client.
Write them love letters, tell your friends and clients about them, and promote their work on social media.
You have nothing to lose to signal to the world exactly whom you want to work with.
So why the heck am I obsessed with meeting John Legend, and why do I feel like fate will sooner or later cross our paths?
Here (thanks to a nudge from Amy Gray, more on that later) is the story of my many connections, close calls and long path admiring John Legend from afar.
Escape from Cubicle Nation
I always have a favorite album that I listen to day and night when writing a book. It is a strange comfort that gets me into the writing mode.
At a time when I should have been writing the book, I started to research his career.
It turns out that John Stephens (his real name) was a former management consultant and worked for Boston Consulting Group. Music was his side hustle.
John literally Escaped from Cubicle Nation. I wrote about him on the blog, and got this comment from a reader named Jane on my post “If John Legend were still best known for being an Excel Cowboy“
“Pamela, I used to work with John Legend (aka John Stephens) when he was a consultant at BCG! He was lovely and brilliant and built excel spreadsheets like there was no tomorrow. But he also seemed quiet and I would have characterized him as an introvert. “He’ll never make it in client services,” I thought, “he doesn’t have much of a personality.” Now, when I watch him emerge out of a cloud of dry ice, bursting with . . . personality, I eat my words. I too have left Corporate America to start my own company – Julep Nail Parlor.”
Jane was not the only blog reader to talk about run-ins with John earlier in his career — but no one ever was close enough to make an intro.
Body of Work
I knew that I wanted to include John as a lead story in Chapter 8 of Body of Work, which was all about defining your own success. A kind client told me that she knew his agent, so she offered to connect me.
I set up a phone call with the agent and discussed my desire to interview John for the book. Understandably, he was a bit harried and hurried, as most agents are. He promised to run the idea by John.
I waited, and waited.
I followed up via email and text.
Soon, my publisher’s deadline forced me to write the story without doing the interview.
Of course I told John’s story in my TEDx Fargo talk about Body of Work, hoping like every other TEDx speaker that the talk would go viral and somehow reach his desk.
No such luck.
My long-time friend and past client Mike Bruny was the generous soul who hooked me up to speak at Scholarcon, an event in Florida where John Legend was also speaking and performing.
The event planner was kind enough to promise me that she would arrange a meeting with John when we were both at the conference.
Giddy with the promise, I commissioned our friend Steve Darden, a Diné (Navajo) artist and Indigenous Knowledge Fellow to make a sacred beaded staff for John and earrings for his wife Chrissy.
I brought the gifts with me to the event and got ready at the appointed time to finally meet him.
“This is it!” I said to myself, “we are really meeting!”
20 minutes before our meeting, I got a call from the event planner.
“I am so sorry to do this, but John had a change in his schedule and can’t meet with you.”
Clearly, I was crestfallen.
I told her I had some special gifts prepared for him, and she promised she would deliver them to his room.
I had not brought a gift bag for the gifts since I was going to hand them directly to John, so I had to go get a Starbucks bag and a post-it note to write a note telling him what the gifts represented. I put a copy of Body of Work in the bag, and delivered it to the event planner.
I never heard a word back. I don’t know if the notes or gift ever made it to his hands.
Makeup artist on plane
In 2018, I spoke in Nashville and was headed home on a plane. There was a friendly young woman seated next to me and we got to chatting.
“What do you do?” I asked her.
“I am a makeup artist for musicians!” she said.
“Oh wow, that is so cool!,” I said. “You … wouldn’t have happened to work with John Legend, have you?”
“I have!” she said enthusiastically. “Just last week!”
She took out her phone and showed me pictures of him on her makeup chair.
Of course she did!
Agency Management Institute
In 2022, I spoke at AMI’s Build a Better Agency conference in Chicago.
Per usual, in my talk about The Widest Net, I slipped in a reference:
“If any of you are cousins with John Legend, be sure to tell me at the break!”
Someone came up to me at the break.
“I have worked with John Legend,” she said. “I can introduce you to someone who works with him now to see if she can make a connection.”
She generously connected me with her contact who was indeed doing work with John. We discussed doing some projects, including having me interview him.
But due to her heavy workload and lots of projects happening at the same time, we were unable to activate the project, and the connection faded away.
So of course I had to ask him in the interview: “Did you happen to work at BCG at the same time as John Stevens, aka John Legend?”
“I did not work with him,” he said, “but I did meet him! He gave me a copy of his CD.”
Of course he did.
Here in downtown Mesa, we are working on a decades-long initiative to build an Innovation District. A lot of the research that feeds into this model comes from Brookings Institution, a think tank that works on economic development issues.
A whole case study in The Widest Net is based on research from Brookings, and how to build a local Beacon.
Our K’é Community Lab here in Mesa was built on core ideas of economic development and community building for BIPOC entrepreneurs.
So you can imagine my shock when I saw this headline float by:
“Brookings and John Legend’s HUMANLEVEL announce a new partnership to improve well-being, equity, and upward economic mobility for people and communities nationwide”
The press release quotes John as saying:
“When we study the stories of people and places, we see that everyone can thrive if given the right tools and opportunities,” said artist and activist John Legend. “I’m proud to partner with The Brookings Institution to fight for sustained investment in our local communities and reframe the narrative around racial equity by focusing solutions.”
Ok John, now you are just messing with me.
For each book, I commission our son Jeff to paint a new painting that represents the theme of the book. He and I were talking about ideas for the painting for The Widest Net, but nothing was really clicking for him.
Then I treated myself to a VIP ticket for a John Legend concert in Phoenix. Part of the experience was meeting John personally, so I excitedly got my copy of Body of Work, marked with a post-in for the chapter about John so I could show him quickly.
Unfortunately, we were still in super safe protected mode after the pandemic, so there was a plastic window between us, and I couldn’t bring the book to the place we took the picture.
At least I got to look him in the eye and smile.
Then the concert started. He was amazing, no shock there.
Part way through the concert he sat on a stool and told us he was sharing a new song that was his wife Chrissy’s favorite, called Stardust.
As soon as he started to sing it, tears rolled down my face. The song perfectly captured the spirit of The Widest Net, weaving beautiful lyrics like:
You are made of stardust
The universe inside you, yeah
A straight-up miracle
It’s so incredible
How you sometimes can forget
I sent a video of the song to Jeff, and he painted this glorious piece:
Art above inspired by Stardust by John Legend and MILCK, created by my son Jeff Slim.
When I was interviewing Amy Gray on the podcast about how to get paid speaking engagements, once the recording was off, I asked her if she had happened to come across John Legend in her work as a speaker agent.
“I have not met him, but I do know someone who wrote a song for him,” she said.
“What song is that?” I asked.
“It’s called Stardust by Connie Lim” she said.
Of course it was that song! (Thank you Connie — it is absolutely lovely!)
I told Amy the story of that song, and its direct connection with The Widest Net.
She encouraged me to write a blog post about all the near misses I had with John.
If You’re Out There John — I’m Ready
So here it is John — all of our near misses, almost meetings, crossed paths and shared passions.
My top two values are Love and Justice, values you exemplify in your music and community work.
You are the embodiment of an Architect of Liberatory Change.
When the time is right, I am ready to help you bring your already vibrant, powerful, liberatory body of work further and deeper out into the world.
I would love to interview you on my podcast, culminating over 15 years of writing about, speaking about and following your work. To quote the subtitle of Body of Work, I would love to hear you describe the “thread that ties your story together.”
Thank you for your body of work, and for exemplifying love, courage and justice in everything you do.